June 26, 2019 | Tips and Training
Positive reinforcement based dog training is fabulous for dogs and people — solving problems, building skills, enriching relationships. The most commonly used reinforcer is food– it’s powerful, quick to deliver, and we have to feed them anyway!
But, is food the only choice for a reinforcer? Most people training their dog will ask at some point: “How long do I have to keep giving him the food treats?”
You could certainly keep right on maintaining your dog’s behaviors with food provided that you are staying within the dog’s calorie budget and ensuring adequate nutrition. We don’t work without a paycheck — your dog’s behaviors won’t stay strong unless he’s “paid”, either.
But– what if your dog is not super food motivated? Or he is…. Until he sees another dog…. Or his leash….Or the ocean…. How do we motivate there?
Think of reinforcers as falling into 3 categories: stuff you can give, games you can play, and access you can grant.
Stuff you can give is maybe the most obvious category, containing rewards such as: food, toy, patting, praise, leashing and so on.
You and your dog probably love playing games together, but it may not have occurred to you to use them as reinforcers. You might ‘tell’ your dog :
What about the ‘Access you can grant’ category? This is powerful, but less obvious.
So, to sum up:
You’re going to hand out the reward, anyway! Your choice is do I put the leash on the jumping bouncing dog, reinforce that, and get worse and worse behavior?
You don’t have a choice that those items are rewarding. You do have a choice to use them consciously and well, rather than accidentally and badly, in training!
Using a diversity of rewards builds relationships while building compliance– so seek the joy!